Shree Baladia Leva Patel

Sarvodal (UK)

'Inspired by the game'
by Rakesh Kerai

We all know that for those of us Baladians that have been born and brought up in the UK, football has somehow become part of our aspect of life that we have whole heartedly adopted from the British. But when we consider the population of our homeland it strikes us that it is amazing India did not have a world cup team representing our nation at the world cup in South Africa. Here Rakesh Kerai talks about how he has inspired young Baladians in the Gaam to fall in love with the game. You never know, by the time 2018 hits, India may just have a world cup winning team in its ranks!

Having been made redundant just before the recession hit in earnest at the height of the credit crunch, I took the opportunity to visit my parents who had relocated to India some years earlier. It was my first trip back to the Gaam in 25 years and frankly I was not sure what to expect. I considered it a means to pass the downturn whilst visiting the folks and enduring a warmer climate than what the cold English December had on offer.

My parents have been volunteering at the school for the last 3 years and after the initial jet lag and holiday feeling wore off, I realised that my parents had already left to face the school children when I woke up. My dad who has been involved in all aspects, has of late been largely involved in the construction work within the new Gujarati school. Whereas my mother, mainly deals with the syllabus and making the teachers and head teacher more accountable, as things in India are not done as we would conventionally expect. More often than not, there are lots of politics involved and the mentality and approach can be a hindrance, preventing things from pushing forward to meet their full potential.

Having been inspired by my parents involvement, I was spurred on and asked them how I could get involved for the duration of my visit. Having reviewed the options, it did not seem appropriate to disrupt the existing curriculum and teach English, particularly since I had planned to do some intermittent touring during my visit. I had noticed there were sports teachers in the school but there were no sports being taught. I knew there would be no chance of me being able to interrupt the schedule of the school so I decided to introduce it at break times. This would allow the children the option to interact more if they wanted to as opposed to being forced into it.

This proposal was discussed with the management team at Chatteri via my father, and this was  approved.  Despite being given the ok,  there was a distinct lack of confidence in what I was proposing, and a reluctance to back the idea and get behind it for what it was. I soon began to appreciate that people in India fail to realise that sports are an important aspect in education and that some children’s academic achievements can be increased by some purposeful team building sporting activity. I evaluated the options and decided that football was the way to go, as it would provide a different set of skills for the children from the cricket that they were all avid followers of, in addition it would give them a new experience.
Upon reflection I realised that I had spent a lot of my time as a child playing with Baladia Youth Club on weekends, through this I enjoyed playing and winning Samaj tournaments and also played football for my school team.

Since the introduction of football was deemed to be an extra-curricular activity I was not permitted to teach on school grounds as there would not be enough space for the other children within the playground. It felt like things started getting more and more complicated. My father once again came to the rescue showing me a derelict ground outside the school. It was not in the best of conditions covered in boulders of rock weeds and on a slope.

At this point, the dream seemed like just that – a dream. I considered letting the dream go, since at every turn there seemed to be an obstacle in the way. It seemed a difficult task to get this ground in a state to play football on. I sat in the Gaam telling the local friends I had made, of the problems I was encountering.

They soon put me in the right direction and within a week we arranged for a JCB and tractor and 4 trailers to start on The Project. It took 4 days and over 80 trailers of soil to improve the condition of the ground. I then rolled the pitch manually in intense heat for two days with a hand roller.

Whilst all the work was going on, the interest from the children started to show.

As you can imagine as soon as the ground was cleared the commercial interest for potential on the land was aroused. Typical, I thought, just as we had put in all the effort to get the scheme off the ground, some hasty developer would steal the opportunity from under our nose. It seemed all around the Gaam interest was picking up and suddenly everyone had a means to make a buck out of the ground. Clearly the interests of the future generation was of little interest to these people. This dispute lasted for the duration whilst I was there in India. The outcome was anybody wanting to buy it for the purpose to construct on would not get it. The ground had been designated solely for recreational purposes, so Chatteri acquired the land for a nominal fee. Finally, I thought, there is a god out there!!

Back to the matter at hand, getting the children kicking ball! Training sessions were programmed at the same time as the children’s breaks, which were 5 - 6pm from Monday to Saturday, and 10am-12pm and 5-6pm on Sundays. Essentially the inspiration came from my parents, who were working hard to help give these youngsters a better future. At the time, I also recalled what a big part football played in my childhood, it was a part of my life, although a cliché those days of an innocent kick about were the best days! 

It seemed the effect football had on me was repeating itself on these children. What started initially with little interest with only 40 children showing up on the first day, was followed by 70 on the second day and a 100 by the third. Clearly the word was getting around, by the end of the week there were 150 kids kicking ball on our ground! It transpired that it was the talk of the dorms! Soon we had a following of spectators too, with those driving by pressing their horns in support, and locals coming to the ground to stop and have a chat and watch. Since there was so much interest the sheer numbers were becoming too difficult to manage, so I introduced more structure and split the different days into different age groups. It seemed that  this did not disappoint the children and those that were not playing on that day were more than happy to watch. What was also important is the other NRI’s showing their support by constantly walking past and encouraging and portraying the importance of it to Chatteri.

Ultimately, the children got plenty of enjoyment out of it. It was good to see other children in the gaam getting involved and other Baladians from London helping out. Astonishingly, teachers were surprised with the change in behaviour and even the caretaker found improvements in the cleanliness of players; in that they would have clean dorms and play areas in time for a kick about, previously they would have dragged this out! But major improvements were mentioned by the school, record cleaning times due to football at 10am. Less rubbish on the grounds, and believe it or not, improvements in grades.

Personally, I found teaching the children a wonderful experience. Gradually, I could see an improvement in performance and the children flourish with a sense of quiet confidence. As a result we introduced a weekly tournament and then the mini league. By the time I left to go travelling, the most encouraging thing was that football was still being played.

Essentially the impact of the game does not vary from Baladia to the UK, that is why it is called, The Game. It is a proven fact all the round the world, football is something that shows no boundaries, rich and poor enjoy it and with a ball anyone can enjoy. This was true in the Gaam where the boys on the Chatteri field had just as much in common as any of the boys playing for a Sunday league in the UK.
In addition to having such a rewarding experience with the football team, I did some work with the team leading the internet library. Since it was an established unit I gave them some of help in expanding it as it was getting progressively busier. We have expanded it so that the users are more comfortable and boys use the facilities downstairs and the girls upstairs. This may seem a little orthodox to us but it works for those in the Gaam and it means the use of the facilities is maximised. It is run by a private conglomerate, who also take care of other issues in the gaam, such as rubbish clearance and the irrigation and plantation of trees.

Ultimately it was an amazing experience. I appreciate when most of us return to the Gaam we are only there for a short time, however there are always ways to help out and make an impact. We as westerners have seen and experienced things that we can lend back to our roots, so that progressively they have the knowledge and force to make a difference in their lives. It is shocking that so many of us return some more frequently than others and yet when we use facilities, such as the Internet library, we cannot even dig into our pockets to contribute to the running of such facilities, let alone question how they are operated. Perhaps it is time to reflect on that and assess how we can make a difference back home, however big or small.